Both plots were based on a protagonist in an unusual and stressful situation. In the first, a boy is reunited with his family a decade after being abducted. In the second, a girl’s mom disappears the day before they were going to run away from an abusive father. The girl has to decide… did her mom leave, or was she killed?
I watched a Pub Rants video clip recently about plot catalysts. The opening chapters here basically define the concept. I could imagine the entire query letter for each book.
Then, while I was pondering all this, my daughter had a conversation with a family friend about The Hobbit. (He likes to do the voices.) She came home and said to me, “The Hobbit’s a great book. There’s always stuff happening. Problem after problem after problem, and they have to solve it all. Or at least try.”
And I thought… wow. That completely sums up a lot of fiction writing guides: problem, problem, problem. Try to solve.
And it completely FAILS to explain why it’s so darned hard to write like that.